By James L. Stroud, Jr.
Fans of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas who were fortunate enough to get tickets to one of the four sold-out performances at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on January 11 and 12 witnessed one Motown’s greatest groups ever and one of the greatest female groups in music history. In fact, in 1995 Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, becoming just the second all-female group to be inducted.
The group was first known as Martha and the Vandellas before their name was changed in 1967. Their classic songs include “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave” (1963), “Dancing in the Street” (1964), “Nowhere to Run” (1965), “I’m Ready for Love” (1966), “Jimmy Mack” (1967) and “Honey Chile” (1967). Martha Reeves went solo in 1972.
Reeves knows how to work and entertain a crowd, as she demonstrated during the Dakota appearances and her earlier visit to the Minnesota History Center’s 1968 exhibit, which is on display until February 20. She walked through the exhibit shaking hands, giving hugs, signing pictures for people and taking pictures with others.
Reeves said that love is the key to it all. When asked what she loves about Minnesota after her first Dakota performance later that night, she replied “For me, it’s the people, this Minnesota crowd, I love them.”
Reeves repeatedly reminded the Dakota crowd that she is 70 years old while humoring them between songs. After she announced her age, there were crowd whispers of “She doesn’t look it” from more than a few people.
When asked how the group got its name, it was manager Dundee Holt who gave MSR the story. According to Holt, once Berry Gordy decided to sign the group, he allowed Martha to come up with the name. Martha was living on a street in Detroit called Van Dyke, which was the dividing line for an east-versus-west neighborhood rivalry. Martha’s favorite singer and idol was the great Della Reese. So she put it all together, and that’s how the group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas got their name.
Reeves was accompanied by her two sisters, Delphine and Lois Reeves; they were not original backup singers for the group, but have toured for years with Martha. Their high-energy performances may not be what it was 50 years ago and the crowd may not have been “Dancing in the Streets,” but they were dancing up a storm at the Dakota and gave up more than one standing ovation. After the Dakota crowd received a dose from one of Motown’s best female groups the first night, all of the groups new CDs, entitled Home to You, sold out immediately after that night’s performances.
So for those people who missed the show or didn’t get an opportunity to buy the latest CD, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas will be back according to their manager Dundee Holt. So keep your eyes on the MSR for future updates.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to jlstroud@spokesman-re corder.com.